The Sarasota Ballet Knocked Paul Taylor’s Dances Out of the Park in Digital Program 4

We’ve got this digital thing down now. My husband whipped up his famous Hemingway cocktails; I dressed up but didn’t need to bother with uncomfortable heels; and we streamed Digital Program 4 Paul Taylor from our computer onto our large screen TV via our trusty HDMI cable. Then, we settled in for a fabulous early evening with the Sarasota Ballet’s carefully curated performances of two of Paul Taylor’s finest pieces.

The company performed the Brandenburgs live last year with guest artist Marcelo Gomes, and this year company principal and resident choreographer Ricardo Graziano more than filled the bill anchoring this magnificent piece set to JS Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. The Brandenburg Concertos are a hallmark of the Baroque era known for ornamentation and for inspiring emotion in audiences. This is among the most perfect pieces of music ever composed. Paul Taylor’s choreography relies on swift and fluid movement from his dancers to maintain the athletic pace of the concertos.

January is typically a dark month, and this year is among the darkest for a multitude of reasons, but watching Graziano accompanied by Ellen Overstreet, Danielle Brown, and Katelyn May in their dark velvet costumes simply dripping with grandeur, made me feel an explosion of joy. It is a rare treat to see three of the company’s finest dancers on stage together with Graziano providing an adoring hub admiring their excellence. The men were not quite as in sync as the ladies; however, it did not detract from the piece in any way, it only served to humanize their muscular and formidable performances. Overstreet always outdoes herself with her elegance and grace truly embodying every aspect of this gorgeous piece of music.

Ricardo Graziano, Katelyn May, Danielle Brown, and Ellen Overstreet in Brandenburgs (photo by Frank Atura)

The production value of the Digital Programs has gotten stronger as well and has been designed to educate audiences about just how special the two pieces, Brandenburgs and Company B, are in the history of both the Paul Taylor Dance Company and the Sarasota Ballet, which is the only company, aside from the Paul Taylor dancers themselves, who have been selected to stage these dances. Special guest, Michael Trusnovec, who performed in Company B in an iconic role that Ivan Spitale simply owns in this version, served as the repetiteur, meaning he placed the dances on our local dancers and is present to ensure that the Taylor vision is maintained. He echoed my view that the Sarasota Ballet dancers are, as he said, hungry for knowledge always seeking to outdo themselves.

Michael Trusnovec and the Sarasota Ballet (photo by Frank Atura)

The company dancers always bring an extra something to their performances, and Company B was no exception. In fact, it was clear that the dancers are far more comfortable with Taylor’s style than when they first began to tackle his pieces years ago. The digital medium also gave them a very interesting opportunity to let loose and explore all elements of the piece that features ten songs sung by the Andrews sisters with a forties flair. I love Yiddish music, so “Bei Mir Bist du Shoen” was one of my favorites and set the tone beautifully right out of the gate. Another piece, “There Will Never Be Another You” was lovely and whimsical, as Kate Honea found herself missing her lost soldier. However, “Oh Johnny, Oh!” with the company of women surrounding Spitale, who is the true break-out star of the digital season, was the highlight of the evening.

Ivan Spitale and the Company in Company B (photo by Frank Atura)

I must admit I was an early skeptic of the digital format, but now I have grown to love it. When it is safe, we will be back in the theater; but I hope the company that have proved their forte with digital programming are able to work this format into their repertoire even after the pandemic. There is no denying its quite a lovely and comfortable way to spend an evening, and I’m glad the rest of the world has the chance to see what we in Sarasota already know, that the Sarasota Ballet company is among the best in the world.

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